Speech by SLW at HKIHRM Annual Conference and Exhibition 2016 (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM) Annual Conference and Exhibition 2016 today (November 24):

David (President of the HKIHRM, Mr David Li), Lawrence (Co-Chairperson of the Conference Organising Committee, Mr Lawrence Hung), Andy (Co-Chairperson of the Conference Organising Committee, Mr Andy Luk), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to open this year's HKIHRM Annual Conference and Exhibition. I feel honoured to join this signature event for the third time wearing my hat as Secretary for Labour and Welfare of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government. I last attended in 2007 and 2010.

     Let me first pay warm tribute to HKIHRM for hosting this prestigious two-day conference, which has been widely regarded as one of the most important people management events in Asia. This year's Conference brings together 30 renowned speakers from around the world to share their insights on human resource management strategies, with over 800 human resource professionals and senior business executives. To all overseas delegates, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to this vibrant city.

     To thrive in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive global economic environment, companies and organisations alike must keep abreast with the latest changes and ride with the moving tide. Two recent dramatic political developments in the West tell us that keeping the status quo is an uphill battle. First is the unexpected result of the referendum which voted for the exit of Britain from the European Union, commonly known as "Brexit". Another huge surprise to many pundits was the outcome of the United States' presidential election. Both scenarios serve as strong wake-up calls that we must brace ourselves for unpredictable changes both in the political sphere and economic order. For business leaders, policy makers and human resource executives, the fast-changing world landscape, from ageing communities, demographic shifts, consumer behaviour, business practices, to technological advancement and rising public aspirations call for new vision, new strategies and new solutions.

     Against this backdrop, the theme of this year's Conference, "Transformation: People‧Strategy‧Organisation" is most timely and pertinent.

     Indeed, people, strategy and organisation form a tripod underpinning a successful enterprise and propel it and, for that matter, an economy forward. At a time when change has become a constant in life, transformations in people-management philosophy and practices, corporate strategies, organisational positioning and mindsets are crucial to corporate survival, revival and success.

     As we all know, people are the life-blood of an enterprise. With the advent of a global ageing trend, the knowledge-based and technology-driven economy, human capital becomes an increasingly valuable asset to any corporation. According to the United Nations, globally one in eight people was aged 60 years or over in 2015. This figure will rise to one in six in 2030 and one in five in 2050. In Hong Kong, out of our current population of 7.3 million, 1.17 million are aged 65 and above. This translates into one in slightly over six of the population and the ratio will soar to one in three in 20 years' time.

     Global population ageing makes it imperative for companies, institutions and governments alike to redefine their human resource strategies.

     To attract, nurture, retool and sustain a dynamic, versatile and highly productive talent pool, business leaders and human resource executives must create a people-oriented corporate culture as well as an employee-friendly and family-friendly work environment, carving out more diverse and flexible career development paths for employees of different age cohorts and backgrounds.

     For governments around the world, population ageing requires them to come up with new human capital development strategies. Hong Kong is no exception. In face of the dual challenges of a rapidly ageing population and a shrinking workforce, the HKSAR Government has left no stone unturned in building a versatile, productive and competitive workforce so that our economy can continue to thrive in the competitive global environment. In January 2015, we mapped out holistic, comprehensive and visionary population strategies covering some 50 initiatives in order to promote this dynamic city's sustainable economic and social growth, unleash the potential of the local workforce, enhance the quality of home-grown talent, attract foreign investors and talent, foster a family-friendly environment and embrace new opportunities in an ageing society.

     Our top priority has always been to nurture local talent and make the best use of our own people. Government expenditure on education for the current financial year (2016-17) is expected to reach HK$75 billion, accounting for 21.5 per cent of the total recurrent government expenditure. This is the lion's share of all policy areas and is up by 70 per cent over the figure a decade ago. This speaks volumes about our commitment to invest in the future of our next generation. Indeed, we see education spending as a long-term investment rather than expenditure. And rightly so as human resources are Hong Kong's most valuable asset.

     To facilitate, enable and attract women, the young old, new arrivals, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities to join or rejoin the workforce, and to enhance the employability and overall competitiveness of different sectors of the local workforce, the Government injected HK$15 billion into the Employees Retraining Fund in early 2014 to finance the long-term operation of the Employees Retraining Board. We have also established a HK$1 billion fund to provide long-term support for the development of the Qualifications Framework, which seeks to promote life-long learning and skills upgrading.

     Moreover, policy measures to enhance child care, after-school support services and retraining courses targeting the needs of women are being strengthened to offer more female homemakers the flexibility of returning to work.

     On top of our continuous efforts to promote elderly retraining and employment through the Labour Department and the Employees Retraining Board, the HKSAR Government, as the largest employer with more than 160 000 employees, has extended the retirement age of all new recruits of the civilian grades from 60 to 65, and from 55 to 60 for disciplined services grades regardless of their ranks since June 1, 2015. This should serve as a shining example for private sector employers to follow.

     To strengthen employment support for those with higher education, including local job seekers with tertiary education or above, Hong Kong students studying in overseas tertiary institutions, the second generation of Hong Kong emigrants who are interested in working in Hong Kong, as well as those from overseas with higher academic/professional qualifications, the Labour Department will launch a dedicated employment information e-platform by the end of this year. This e-platform, known as the Higher Education Employment Information e-Platform, aims to enhance the users' understanding of the local employment market and facilitate their search and application for suitable job openings through the new webpage.

     At a time when technological innovations have brought the world closer, it is neither possible nor desirable for companies to distance themselves from the community. This is why many enterprises the world over are increasingly embracing the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). They no longer focus only on the interests of their businesses and shareholders, but also constructively engage stakeholders in the wider community. In fact, CSR is important for enterprises not just in a marketing and image-building sense, but also for more practical profit-related or even survival-related strategic considerations. It is where the Harvard Business School's thought leader, Professor Michael Porter's Creating Shared Value (CSV) concept comes into play. "Shared value" refers to a management strategy which creates measurable business and economic value by addressing social problems that intersect with businesses. In other words, this approach seeks to generate a win-win scenario where economic value is produced while societal challenges are also addressed.

     Organisations and corporations which adopt an elderly friendly employment strategy and make good use of the highly productive "young-old" workforce is a handy and simple illustration of CSV.

     Governments can also serve as a key agent to promote shared values. The Low-income Working Family Allowance (LIFA), launched by my Labour and Welfare Bureau, is a good example. To encourage self-reliance, promote continuous employment, foster the spirit of hard work, alleviate working poverty and reduce inter-generational poverty, we rolled out the LIFA Scheme in May this year. Under the LIFA Scheme, an eligible family, of say four members, with the father taking up a full-time job and earning no more than HK$18,200 per month, the mother as a homemaker and two children, may receive a monthly allowance of up to HK$2,600. The International Monetary Fund has endorsed this Scheme in glowing terms and considers it an effective policy measure in "incentivising labour productivity and reducing welfare burden". These positive values would bring benefit not only to the employees, their families and their offspring, but also to the employers and companies, as well as the economy and society as a whole. So far, some 27 600 families (comprising over 100 200 people, including 44 700 children) have benefitted from the Scheme, involving a total payout of HK$320 million.

     Ladies and gentlemen, we are living in exciting, challenging but uncertain times. With constant and sometimes unpredictable economic, social, demographic and political changes, we cannot afford to sit on our hands. For to stand still is to remain stagnant and even wither. As business leaders, human resource executives and policy makers, we must remain vigilant and stand ready to rise to the challenges and turn adversities into opportunities. We must go beyond the conventional silo mentality and proactively create values for people, organisations and the community as a whole. We must be prepared to think out of the box and have the courage to make a paradigm shift. Transformation to meet today's needs defines the success of tomorrow. After all, life is just like riding a bicycle. To keep our balance, we must keep moving. And moving forward, not backward!

     On this note, let me wish you all a fruitful and inspiring conference. Thank you.

Ends/Thursday, November 24, 2016
Issued at HKT 11:35